Michelle A.B. McKenzie used to spend time behind a desk and in the courtroom, writing legal briefs and arguing points of law on behalf of her clients.
Now she sits behind a desk, or under an oak tree, even on her couch at home – still writing – but writing something she believes is much more interesting than a legal opinion.
The attorney-turned-author, who lives in the rural area between Oakdale and Escalon, has published two books for children, with a focus on introducing as many fun and unique words as possible within the context of the story.
“It is something I had always wanted to do,” she admitted of writing books for children.
She spent many years in the field of law before she gave birth to her son, and she decided on semi-retirement after that, eventually leaving the law firm to be a full-time mom and, as it turned out, author as well.
McKenzie had “dreamed up” several “silly stories” over the years, she said, and was inspired to do something with them after becoming a volunteer in her son’s classroom at Valley Home School once he started school.
“I am an attorney so that’s kind of boring, right? I had written them (stories), I enjoyed sitting down and dreaming up a silly story, then I got motivated to send my stories off to a publisher,” McKenzie explained of interacting with her son’s classmates. “I became kind of fascinated with children, how they learn to read.”
She also wanted to make sure they were both entertained and educated by reading, so she set out to write books that fit the bill, with plenty of vocabulary words to introduce to young readers.
Her first book, Beavers’ Big Problem, focuses on the trouble at an ice cream factory when the clopzip breaks on the main gizmo and threatens to shut down the operation.
“There is a family of characters in the book,” McKenzie shared, adding that she made up the word clopzip as the troublesome part of the machinery because she liked the different phonic sounds.
Liking the word and saying it, however, were two different things.
“I didn’t realize how difficult it was to say clopzip until I started reading the book out loud to children,” she said, chuckling.
A major theme of the book is finding a way to fix a problem, with teamwork also a part of the package.
Similarly, Beavers’ Big Discovery finds her family of critters in Far Away Land excited for the upcoming Great Rodent Festival, then having to work together to make sure it actually happens when a burglary could end up forcing a cancellation of the festivities.
Writing, especially for children, is a way for McKenzie to share her passion for literacy and she will return this fall to the Great Valley Bookfest, where she will have her books for sale. Date for this year’s Bookfest is Oct. 18, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., at the Orchard Valley Shopping Center in Manteca.
“This will be my third year, I really enjoy it,” McKenzie said of participating in the event. “You get to meet and interact with a lot of the other authors and what I like best about it is it is a place where people that love books come, they are coming specifically for the books.”
Her books are also for sale at Yesterday’s Books in Modesto, Vineyard Pharmacy in Escalon, Bucksworth Western Wear and Raley’s Supermarket, both in Oakdale, as well as at many online locations.
Her online presence at her website, sillycritterstories.com, also offers up a wide variety of fun and educational activities for kids based on her books. There are word searches, printable puzzles and coloring pages, even fun facts about beavers, the stars of her stories.
In her previous career as an attorney, McKenzie was with the firm of Damrell Nelson Schrimp Pallios, Pacher & Silva, and worked for them for 12 years. The bulk of her time was spent in civil litigation, but she also did equine law, focused on horse-related disputes, injuries and business litigation.
Two very different careers, McKenzie said, but she noted both are ultimately rewarding in their own way.
She has some other “silly stories” that could also turn in to books in the future, but right now she is busy with her volunteer work as president of the Escalon Friends of the Library, being a full-time mom to her now 10-year-old son and enjoying watching him pursue his passion – art.
The young artist has already entered and won some competitions, so creativity definitely runs in the family.
McKenzie does know that if she authors another book, she will stick to the same basic formula, make it fun and full of words to keep her young readers engaged.
“That’s one of the biggest challenges, you want them to read but they might not be interested in those books or they may not be entertained,” she said. “That, to me, is the ultimate goal: to teach kids to read, and get them to keep reading.”